GREENBELT, Md. (Feb. 1, 2016)—Former Charles County Judge Robert C. Nalley, of La Plata, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to deprivation of rights under color of law for ordering a deputy sheriff to activate a stun-cuff worn by a pro se criminal defendant during a pre-trial court proceeding.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta; and Special Agent in Charge Kevin Perkins of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office.
"Disruptive defendants may be excluded from the courtroom and prosecuted for obstruction of justice and contempt of court, but force may not be used in the absence of danger," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
"Under our constitution, judges serve as the guardians and arbitrators of justice," said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. "When government officials—including judges—violate the rights we entrust them to defend and break the laws we expect them to uphold, they undermine the legitimacy of our justice system."
From 1988 to September 2014, Nalley was a judge of the Circuit Court for Charles County, Maryland. According to his guilty plea, on July 23, 2014, Judge Nalley presided over the jury selection for the victim, who was representing himself in a criminal proceeding in Charles County court. Before the proceedings began, a deputy sheriff informed Judge Nalley that the victim was wearing a stun-cuff. Judge Nalley was aware that when activated, the stun-cuff would administer an electrical shock to the victim, thereby incapacitating him and causing him pain.
Several minutes after the proceedings had begun, Judge Nalley asked the victim whether he had any questions for the potential jurors. The victim repeatedly ignored Judge Nalley and instead read from a prepared statement, objecting to Judge Nalley's authority to preside over the proceedings, while standing calmly behind a table in the courtroom. The victim did not make any aggressive movements, did not attempt to flee the courtroom, and did not pose a threat to himself or to any other person at any point during the proceedings. Judge Nalley twice ordered the victim to stop reading his statement, but the victim continued to speak.
Judge Nalley then ordered the deputy sheriff to activate the stun-cuff, which administered an electric shock to the victim for approximately five seconds. The electric shock caused the victim to fall to the ground and scream in pain. Judge Nalley recessed the proceedings.
Nalley faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison followed by one year of supervised release and a fine of up to $100,000. U.S. Magistrate Judge William Connolly has scheduled sentencing for March 31, 2016 at 10:00 a.m.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta commended the FBI for its work in the investigation, and thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristi N. O'Malley and Daniel C. Gardner of the District of Maryland, and Trial Attorney Mary J. Hahn of the Civil Rights Division, who are prosecuting the case.